Deaf dragon boat trainers roped in to lead exercises in team-building

Consider it a case of the deaf leading the "deaf" to "hear" with their other senses.

A social enterprise has roped in deaf dragon boat trainers to conduct team-building activities.

The trainers teach hearing participants sign language and organise team-building games on land.

Participants also learn to paddle a boat as a team, not by following verbal cues but by watching for instructions relayed through basic sign language.

They learn other styles of paddling too, such as using one arm, to simulate what it is like to paddle as a person with only one arm.

The idea? To learn communication and teamwork via non-verbal cues and gestures, and to bridge the gap between the hearing and the hearing-impaired.

The trainers are now trying out blind paddling - with participants blindfolded and communicating through vibrations from paddles hitting the boat.

The trainers are from the Deaf Dragons dragon boat team, which has eight deaf members, three intellectually disabled ones and six who are able-bodied.

The trainers are also part of Society Staples, a social enterprise that aims to connect the disabled with the wider community through fitness.

Deaf Dragons and Society Staples were founded by Ms Debra Lam, 22, and Mr Ryan Ng, 24.

They are not deaf, but are familiar with the challenges faced by people with disabilities - Ms Lam has two brothers with autism, and Mr Ng has a brother who has a learning difficulty.

The team-building sessions lasting up to three hours cost $40 to $50 per person. They have run sessions with about 15 groups.

The income goes towards funding Society Staples' operating costs and its plans for a disabled-friendly gym. It started engaging deaf paddlers as facilitators last December, after getting a deaf paddler to help with photo-taking and logistics.

Mr Ng told The Straits Times: "One day I told him 'You try to be a trainer'. We decided to try this arrangement as it helps to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and those without."

Soon, the number of deaf trainers for team-building activities grew from one to eight.

Two groups have taken part in the activities so far, namely young people from a mosque and social enterprise CityCare, which promotes volunteerism.

Deaf facilitator Jimmy Chan, 44, said he gained confidence and leadership skills.

Fellow facilitator Daniel Ong, 46, said: "Being a deaf person usually puts us in a negative light... but when we step up to be a trainer, it changes the public's perception of us."

CityCare volunteer leader Melvin Chan, 21, agreed. "Learning paddling from them was slower because it took more time to communicate, but I also realised how we have taken verbal communication for granted."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

For more information, go to facebook.com/SocietyStaples